Depression and Entrepreneurs

Amy and I wrote a meaningful amount about entrepreneurs and depression in Startup Life. Since we finished the final draft a few weeks ago, I’ve given several talks where depression came up as I’ve woven my own experience with depression into the short (less than 15 minute) version of my story. I’ve received a surprising (to me) number of emails from people thanking me talking about it publicly, along with my discussion of the anxiety disorder (obsessive compulsive disorder) that I’ve struggled with my entire adult life and that was severe during the serious depressive episode I had in my early to mid 20s.

So the idea of depression has been on my mind. It doesn’t surprise me that I feel down and flat as I sit here in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport on my way to Lexington, Kentucky on day 16 of a 19 day trip. I’m tired, strung out, missing home, missing Amy, and running out of extrovert energy. I’ve had a great time with all the people I’ve been with and the events I’ve had around Startup Communities.ย I’ve had several extraordinary experiences like dinner last night in Toronto with a dozen fantastic entrepreneurs who I hope to have continuous involvement – as a friend and potential investor – in the future. But as I sit here, I’m surrounded by a lot of grey, and it’s not just the clouds outside that are the remnants of the storm.

I’ve reached out to most of my friends in New York to check in on them. They are all doing fine even though a few were hit hard and are now effectively homeless as lower Manhattan gets cleaned up. I picked a spot in the airport far away from the TV – I couldn’t stand the endless news cycle that mixed Sandy with Romney with Obama. I had some extra carbs hoping that would help – it just made me feel sleepy. Yup – I know what this feeling is.

I know many entrepreneurs who deal with different levels of depression. My close friend Jerry Colonna is extraordinarly eloquent about this and how it impacts entrepreneurs. Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger, wrote a powerful post about his struggle with depression titled When Death Feels Like A Good Option. And I’ve had many conversations with other entrepreneurs about my, and their, struggle with depression.

For some reason we’ve embraced failure as an entrepreneurial trait that is ok, but we still struggle with acknowledging and talking about depression. Entrepreneurs function with a wide range of stresses and emotions that often have overwhelming intensity. In many cases, we are afraid of admitting depression, and are often highly functional when we are depressed. But that doesn’t deny the fact that entrepreneurs get depressed. To deny this, is to deny reality, and that’s against my value system.

I just went back and read what we wrote in Startup Life about depression and it made me smile. I’m really proud of the work that Amy and I did on that book – I think it is the best book I’ve been involved in writing (Venture Deals, which I wrote with Jason Mendelson, is a close second) and I’m hopeful that it has a lot of impact and value for entrepreneurs and their partners.

Just writing all of this makes me feel better. Thanks for listening. Time to get on the plane and go to Lexington.

  • A recent study continues to confirm what we all intuitively know, there is a high correlation between creativity and mental illness. I am reading the study since most headlines are just sensationalized. But this one seems well done. Me? I embrace my disfunction.

    • As do I.

    • Barry & Brad – totally agree. I have also heard and read about studies that it is common for families to have members who are Autistic and those who are ‘entrepreneurial’, highly creative, inventive and intelligent. I am a serial entrepreneur – struggling to get a B2B2C application launched, the grand daughter of a multi-patent holder inventor, the mother of a gifted artist and the aunt of a multi-lingual autistic nephew [all of us battle depression] our experience seems to support the studies.

      Brad – thank you as always for your transparency and leadership in the Start-Up and VC community – you are a Rock Star!

  • Thanks for writing this Brad and being open about it. Such an important issue that ruins so many lives.

  • Don’t forget to exercise!

    • Right on. That’s part of the problem today – too much travel, not enough sleep, and no exercise because I’m still in marathon recovery (although I should be recovered by now.)

  • salchrist

    Thanks for writing more about this…it’s important that people are open about depression and all of its friends–both in entrepreneurship and in daily life. There is still too much shame and stigma surrounding the discussion and admission of depression and so on.

  • Back in 2001-2003, I’ve battled a prolonged period of depressive moods (never called it depression even to myself). My first software business was slowly dying at that time. Since we worked from home (my team was always virtual), I’d have whole weeks without going out.

    And then, in 2004, my wife and I gathered the courage (despite our dire financial situation) to take a long vacation. I felt refreshed enough to initiate a new project with my partners. And then I started walking every day (Brookline, MA is the best walking place in the US). That helped a lot – I discovered how walking would simply dissolve my mental tensions and worries literally within minutes.

    However, I’ve always thought (and told to myself) that having down periods was a normal part of life. I probably learned that from my father who was a psychiatrist. I remember him having a slightly dismissive attitude towards the always “happy” people. Somehow that was suspicious to him – morally, intellectually, and even clinically.

    And, of course, there is that theory about depression being a necessary period for our brain to process, shut-off external noise, “defrag”, and re-arrange stuff… in fact, being the basis of any creative effort. I really subscribe to that theory.

    Anyway… thank you Brad for writing about this.

    • I agree with this premise that depression – and a wide range in moods – is a part of the creative process. At 46, I’ve learned not to deny it but embrace it and roll with it. I’ve also learned that – at least for me – the crushing depressive feelings pass pretty quickly. This wasn’t always the case for me, so I attribute some of it to my own emotional growth as well as a change in my brain and body chemistry over a period of time. So – like many other things – there is no “static” or “equilibrium” state.

  • Albert Malvehy

    The energy and effort you put out into the world is nothing short if awesome. I mean that in te Webster’s dictionary definition of the word. Awesome. Thank you so much for being so incredibly open an transparent, giving many others hope and permission o deal with issues without feeling like a failure. You rock, man. Don’t stop!

    • Thanks Albert – it’s people like you – and what I learn from you – that motivates me to do it!

  • Steve

    Does your running help lift your mood? I’ve been running for nearly 40 years and after about 3 miles, when those endorphins kick in, it’s like I’m a new person.

    • Running helps me a huge amount. Part of the reason I run is for my mental health – if I run less than 5 hours a week I feel the gloom coming on. And I haven’t run at all this week – only once since the marathon – so that’s probably part of it.

  • Thank you for writing about this Brad. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, with a strong family history of depression. I know that the correlation between these topics is more common than reading the typical startup blogs would suggest, and I applaud you for speaking and writing publicly about depression, obsession, failure, and starting new things. Take care, be well, and keep up the good work ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Brad: thanks for raising a topic a lot of people don’t like to talk about either because entrepreneurship is supposed to be about positive energy/success or because people fear injecting a dose of reality into these precarious, nascent organizations. In more than a decade of working with very early stage companies, I’ve generally observed that entrepreneurship is a lonely–not a sexy–role. The best founders are breaking with the mainstream to do something radically new, and worse, are often warned (with good intentions) by their closest friends and family that maybe, just maybe, what they are doing isn’t the best thing.

    Add a clinical behavioral health issue to that climate of skepticism and the result can be an immense–and unnecessary–amount of stress on the founder(s), which in turn can hurt the business. (The other behavioral health issues I’ve seen several times besides depression is ADHD; one CEO even joked to me that it was a necessary requirement to be an entrepreneur.)

    A lead early stage investor, close board member or adviser ought to have a close enough relationship with the founding CEO to be able to help them get resources to support them. I’ve helped bring in an outside coach in one instance and should have encouraged one founder in another situation to get medical help earlier (it was too late when we finally had that discussion.)

    Entrepreneurs’ mental health shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Thanks for calling it out!

    • The investor / mentor dynamic is a super important one that I try to play with every company I invest in. Occasionally I find myself doing more harm than good to the mental health of a CEO or entrepreneur and when I realize that, or get called out on it, I immediately change my perspective. Being a force of good in an already complex and stressful existence is powerful (and satisfying).

  • Brad, your openness on topics like this is why I’m buying Startup Life and why if I ever decide to augment my self-funded projects you’ll be getting a call.

  • Fractional

    This I can relate too totally. I’ve been struggling over the last 6 months whilst setting up a dotcom ski chalet business and whilst this should be one of the most exciting times of my life (and in fact it is one of the most exciting times of my life) Ive had to deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation that go hand in hand with depression… Being an entrepeneur is in itself often a lonely task with no one there to pat you on the back or tell you how well your doing – you have to be introspective and judge yourself and your acheivements constantly, the balance sheet is the only thing that really shows if youve made the right decisions and done the right things and no matter what that says at times it feels like bit of a cold existence.

    I wouldnt want my life any other way but being an entrepreneur is often a series of highs and lows from day to day and whilst this is the reason why we do it, it can also be the hardest thing to handle.

    • Well said. I don’t think we talk about the loneliness of it, especially when combined with the stress of it, enough so thanks for sharing.

  • Great post Brad! I think that we underestimate the strong correlation between the mechanics of our body and happiness. I’m an entrepreneur myself but I make it a priority to eat well (breakfast!), exercise and breathe. I see so many people just forgetting about themselves thinking that working longer hours is the key to success. With so little oxygen going to the brain, eyes on a laptop all day long, bad posture, little human warmth, hours sitting down, it comes to no surprise that it becomes grey up there. Finally, we work a lot with the thought of a more promising “future”, rarely being in the now. When I attain a milestone, I immediately think of the next one and rarely feel satisfied. In sum, with better love for our body and presence, I think entrepreneurs could be happier. Or is it this constant limit pushing and unsatisfaction that leads us to succeed?

  • Often at the top of the org chart one isn’t willing to admit to depression, even to themselves. Show strength, etc. I’ve found that letting others in, even in within the org in a ‘how can i help” capacity can strengthen a team. People on a team like rallying behind something, it doesn’t have to be a product, it can be a person too.

  • Jeffrey Hartmann

    I think alot of the creative class has at one time or another battled with depression. I personally had a very bad stretch of depression my first year in college at the end of my first serious relationship. I have constantly done a few things since I climbed out of that darkness and they have really helped me. I am very deliberate about doing things that bring me joy, for me the ‘pill’ that I need is to create and to learn. I can’t report that my life doesn’t have its ups and downs, but even after 13 years with a serious illness (Ankylosing Spondylitis), periods of crazy work habits, successes and failures, I am happy to report I have been depression free for 17 years. I make sure I do something creative or enriching everyday. I take photos, play in the gimp, write, read, read to my son, talk to my wife, and code like a madman. These acts of creation are the ‘pill’ I need every day, and they help me view my life in the proper perspective and light. I encourage everyone who has these problems to find the appropriate help and use the experience to examine what truly makes you feel good about yourself and your life. Then try and do those things as often as you can.

  • I get bouts of where I feel down but I am not sure if they can be classified as ‘depression’. Regardless, I know that they will pass by and this knowledge keeps me going! I will definitely check the links you provided in this post I am sure you will be in a better mood when you re-connect with Amy (FYI. it was great meeting you in person yesterday and I appreciate the hug ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jo T.

    I think anxiety and depression strike everyone. It’s part of everyday life, but there’s a stigma associated with it still today in our society.

    I also think that entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable: 1. They’re expected to lead their companies and “be strong,” 2. Being a founder can be a very lonely job, as you can’t share everything real-time with your team or your Board members, and 3. Many people who don’t start their own businesses have a hard time truly relating to a founder–they think they know what an entrepreneurial life is like, but what’s written in the media or shown in movies is often incorrect–and this can further create isolation.

    Thank you, Brad, for writing about these topics!

  • WhatTheHuh

    Depression is an inherently mysterious topic. Is depression a sign that I am leading an inherently inauthentic or meaningless life or is my meaningful life and my negative response to it proof that my mental faculties are functioning incorrectly? The brain science on addiction and endorphin release seems pretty clear cut. Maybe humans are the sort of animal that isn’t supposed to have so many enormous highs/lows due to success/failure, fame/fortune, etc. Look at how many rock stars self destruct. On the other end of the spectrum, look at the “dark night of the soul” experienced by many saints. Perhaps we are humans version 1.6 and our alien creators weren’t able to balance all of our capabilities optimally?

    Anyway, entrepreneurs tend to suck the marrow out of life. This seems like an inherently balance upsetting path.

    I’ve lost friends and relatives to suicide. Do me a solid. If you think even remotely that you have a problem here, give yourself the same courtesy you would your car if it started making odd noises…..GET IT CHECKED OUT!!!! Peace out.

  • WhatTheHuh

    Brad, I travel a lot too. Forgive me for being blunt but noone who knows how to travel, travels for 19days straight. What could be that important? Travel from Tues-Thurs. This gives you Fri-Mon to become human again. Take day trips—out and back in the same day when possible. Don’t penny pinch. Use your 4 days at home to plan. Also, 3 day+ conferences are out. Pick 2 days and get it done.

    Traveling too much is de-humanizing. That is a key source of depression. Now, if you were 25 and single, I’d say, travel is the greatest thing you can do. But once you start to nest…it gets old.

    I enjoy traveling but not over-traveling.

    • I generally travel exactly the way you describe. In this particular case, I had several weekends in a row where I had things going on – a marathon one weekend and an event in Boston that was the 20th reunion of Birthing of Giants. As a result, there was no easy way to get back to Boulder for the weekend and get back.

      I realize I did this to myself.

  • Keep your head up, Brad. One of the few things I’ve enjoyed about getting older is at least I know the depression will end. Also, too bad you aren’t home tonight. Nothing like elementary school kids in costumes begging for candy to cheer one up!

    • I love seeing the little kids. I walked home yesterday from the Loop just so I could see them. Fun. Smiles.

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  • Sairee

    Brave and honest – oh so rare! – thank you!

  • jerrycolonna

    I think entrepreneurs seem especially prone to depression because of their understandable tendency to see business as an extension of themselves-like an artist seeing their work as an expression of their innermost being. The result is a crazy-making roller-coaster where we swing from grandiosity to the shits. As if the fortunes of the business were any reflection on our existential selves.

    What’s more, it takes a certain mental and character structure to step off the edge and jump in. You have to, for example, believe so strongly in your ideas as to overcome every shred of doubt. As Hugh MacLeod has noted, it helps to be delusional.

    But, from my seat, what makes it even more difficult is the fact that in our society in general, and this subculture specifically, it’s still taboo to hold any posture other than absolute confidence in your business. And that pressure is unbearable; it inevitably leads to a loss of self, a loss of perspective.

    There are a few of us talking about this. This post, as well as Ben’s, really helps. Last week I gave a talk at IAVentures’ portfolio meeting. I think I shocked a few folks mostly because I wouldn’t anyone gloss over stuff. I tried to lead by example–talking about my own relationship with the Black Dog–and that seemed to help. It gave permission for others in the room and talk about the cost to their lives of being an entrepreneur.

    The relentless worrying. The relentless sacrifice of body and soul. The relentless production of adrenaline which alters the body’s chemistry making us sick in heart and body.

    Sure, we talk about embracing failure but we don’t embrace the risk of failure. Even that phrase, “embrace failure” can induce a false bravado, making it seem unseemly to be worried about failure. And remember that anxiety and depression are cousins. Heading off depression often means getting people to own and talk about their anxiety.

    One of the reasons I love you and your work is your bravery and willingness to use this pulpit to make it safe to talk about things. Of all the many things about your career that you should be proud, I think this is the thing you should feel proudest of.

    • Jerry,

      Thank you.

      Your thoughts are right on and Brad should be proudest of engaging this discussion. Saving lives is more important than making money.

      The ultimate reality distortion; Depression is a bitch.

      Knowing there’s a place for discussion is vital. Hearing the discussion from people in the pulpit removes so many layers of stigma from suffers in the congregation.

      This is real work. This is work that changes people’s lives. That changes the world.

      • jerrycolonna

        When I was hit by depression, or rather when it again reared up as it has always felt a part of me, in 2001-2002 I know it was important that I do the work underlying it, the work that it revealed. I spent years sitting as, I like to think, the Buddha did…being still until I figured this fucking thing out.

        The gift of that time was I became the person I am today–and I fucking love the person I am today. One of my teachers laughs when I talk about my work as a coach…he winks and says, “You’re just teaching what you’ve been taught.”

        • It’s a symptom of underlying/unresolved issues.

          The process of self discovery is quite humbling. I’m always laughing at myself for the insane way I think and perceive. It’s only in retrospect that I can see my own follies.

          I’m very grateful for the pain that signals me to become healthy.

          I started seeing a therapist almost 2 years ago and she has helped me immensely. Just being able to have this conversation with you is cathartic.

          A great podcast is The Mental Illness Happy Hour. . He’s a comedian from LA who shares about his depression and recovery. Very helpful and de-stigmatizing.

          • jerrycolonna

            Time and again people are skeptical about the power of cathartic talking and time and again I’m amazed at how much it helps.

        • One thing I have learnt is that it is OK to not have all the answers, all the time. It’s even OK to not even have a plan – to sometimes go with the flow – right now I am in a wilderness somewhat but strangely calm about it – blogging has helped, ironically – yes, I am a late starter to blogging, somewhat!

          I didn’t expect it to be so cathartic until I realised I should just open-up in my blog and not be trying to ‘sell’ myself which is what I suspect I did too much of in the past – as do so many people nowadays, I sense. If people want to deal with me on merit, great – if not, fine. Take me as you find me is my attitude nowadays – not in a belligerent manner but just ‘I am comfortable with myself’ – warts and all…

          I have also started studying the universe more – from both spiritual and scientific stances – with no partisan preference. It’s nice to think ‘big’ sometimes – and you can’t get any bigger than that topic. Puts everything into perspective and reinforces it’s OK to not have all the answers. Just Be. And Think.

    • Thanks Jerry for your insights into this topic, and I wished I was at the IAV talk you gave. I’ve met you and I know you’re a true life coach.

      • jerrycolonna

        Thanks William

    • I am continually amazed by the things you say and your generosity in saying them.

      • jerrycolonna

        ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks Donna

  • Friends of mine that are depressed have killed themselves. Traders that lost a lot of money. There is an ethos to entrepreneurs that is different. Most of the ones I am around have hope. So that’s good. But dealing with failure is tough-especially when you are running out of working capital. The only good answer I know is to talk about it with someone you trust.

  • DaveJ

    Hmm. You’ve been traveling, running marathons, working long days and as busy as you’ve ever been – remember the aftermath of the 50 miler? Dopamine and other brain chemistry is roughly homeostatic – it seeks long-term equilibrium, and you can’t go manic/high without the accompanying low.

    I think that, more generally, entrepreneurs are prone to this, whether it is caused by a mild bipolar tendency or whether it’s induced by their high energy and ambition. I suspect that the highs are an important component of success, as they not only fuel creative output but also lend charisma and excitement to a leader. Consequently, I agree strongly with Jerry that it’s great for you to talk about it, because it’s probably not possible to eliminate it in most cases – it’s part of entrepreneurship.

    My own ups and downs are relatively minor and I’ve always felt like this was an inhibitor of entrepreneurial success.

  • I would have assumed that the 9-5 workers in corporations would be more prone to depression than entrepreneurs. Thank you for sharing both this and I learned some things from the prior comments as well.

    • we have higher highs and lower lows. our expectations versus the reality we encounter can cause the change in direction. depression comes from feeling powerless to change the situation and hopeless because you feel there is nothing you can do. like when your idea involves customers taking action in a certain way, and then you test and discover that they don’t behave the logical way you thought they would, and there is nothing you can do about it because people are people, it can hit you pretty hard after all that dreaming of how great things will be when your product is ready. fortunately most of us are bitten with a persistence bug that keeps us going, and we can ride out the dip until we get our energy back up. exercise can help as others have said here. so can taking time to recall the good things you have accomplished (boost your confidence) and being grateful for what you have (boost your self esteem) and this too shall pass. just like Sandy and Romney and Obama.

  • will this book be available as an audiobook? i could listen while on the exercise treadmill.

    • Eventually they all will be turned into audiobooks but it tends to lag a while after the release.

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  • Kristo

    As an entrepreneur, it is most difficult to even outwardly
    admit to being down. I am looking for the way to achieve
    success. I am setting a positive example for everyone in
    the company. I am showing my family that we can do anything,
    that we will overcome adversity. I am strong and start,
    create and succeed in germinating ideas into successful companies.

    I’ve started two successful companies and ran the group
    when the first company was acquired (and acquired again).
    The latest was recently merged and now i’m out thinking about
    what to start next. I’m not starving and i do have time
    to get it all together. There is also turmoil in my family life now.
    These are just temporary setbacks, right?

    With every line i type, i debate whether to hit return or
    hit backspace. I keep wondering why i’m even typing.
    Am i feeling sorry for myself or will i let someone
    else know that s/he is not alone. I don’t want anyone to
    feel sorry for me. I can take care of myself. I have faced adversity
    of every type countless times. Why does this feel so difficult?
    I have “fallen down seven times, and gotten up eight” to borrow
    from the japanese proverb.

    I don’t want to admit that I feel like i’m mired in quicksand.
    I am now procrastinating. I am taking so long to do what little
    i even feel like doing. I am drinking and getting high for no
    real reason. I feel i am escaping by meeting up with friends, very
    loving caring friends, whose time and concern i appreciate. Yet,
    i feel like i’m running away from from something not towards anything.
    I am exercising. It all feels great … temporarily.
    Then i realize that i still feel empty. I don’t want to get
    up. I’m tired. I don’t want to be with people. I don’t want
    anyone to know i feel like this.

    Sure, i put on a great face. People say “How well you cope
    with all you are facing.” Inside, i don’t feel like me.
    I know i’ll eventually shake it. Right now, i feel like
    i’m almost drowning – i get some air, then sink down again.

    • Jeffrey Hartmann

      I know a lot of people feel that ‘getting help’ is a sign of weakness. It is not, we can’t do everything by ourselves. Personally my whole life view changed from what I learned in counselling when I was depressed. I still use those tools every day. If you haven’t talked to a professional, it might be of great help.

      • Kristo

        Thank you. I do get a great deal of support from a few very caring, close friends too. The community here also provides significant support and perspectives to consider.

      • A really tremendous post, and full of touching feedback and openness.

        I’m wondering whether anyone here has come across the work of Brenรฉ Brown (

        She writes very powerfully about shame and vulnerability, and having found her work via TED talks ( I’m now reading her first book “I thought it was just me (but it isn’t)” – see

        Really powerful stuff, and I’m confident many folk on this thread would benefit – e.g. ‘getting help’ is challenging for men because–above all– we are brought up to believe that showing weakness is the one thing that men should not / must not do. Brenรฉ suggests (and it certainly resonates with me) that we are shamed if we do show weakness.

        I’ve read the book once, and went straight into reading it again. I’ve also bought her other two books and I hope her wisdom and scholarship can help other folks here – both men and women!

    • Beautifully put, Kristo. I often think of Stevie Smith’s Not Waving But Drowning.

      And also, Desiderata.

  • Chenoa Farnsworth

    I don’t think it is an entrepreneur thing…it is a human thing, and there is nothing more refreshing than expressing how truly human we all are. Thank you Brad

  • Thank you for the post. Truly amazing. Fighting with depression since a while, but my innate optimism will lead me out.

  • That’s a great post and topic. Entrepreneurs have so many ups and downs, it’s understandable that depression enters the vocabulary. But I think there is a red line between true depression and being down for just a day or two. The latter happens more often and can be dealt with, whereas depression is something that one doesn’t get out of for while, and one where medication is required. Depression is a form of capitulation. I refuse to even consider it an option or a cope-out choice.





  • very brave of you to talk about this Brad, my hats off to you. Here is a book that impacted me a lot, passed on by an EO friend:

    I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrence Real. I don’t think it’s relevant for you considering the great relationship you have with your dad, but for lots of other entrepreneurs, it will be right on target.

    • Thx for the recommendation – on the reading list!

  • Joe

    I’m actually a psychiatry resident, on leave from my clinical training, working on a health tech co (my 3rd startup). I’ve always found this topic fascinating and in particular, the effects of stress on the brain has been my research focus since college (Robert Sapolsky, one of the gurus in this area, was my undergrad advisory).

    I generally like Jerry’s assessment, because it hints at the intangible/emotional factors that lead someone to start a company, which can also lead them to interpret statistically likely events, i.e. the troughs in a startup, as “my fault”, “my failure”, etc and create additional stress that might not be a factor if one were not in a startup environment. I know this may sound a bit like a reach, but I’ve seen a similar downward spiral both in my patients and my friends who are founders: Something major goes wrong (call it bad luck), i.e. v1 doesn’t work (startup)/a relationship ends badly (patient), person feels down and starts to blame his/herself and feel helpless. Then something minor may go wrong, which person reacts to/interprets in an unusually negative way, compounding feelings of helplessness and self blame…this person then may have a genetic/familial predisposition in their history to become depressed (or nothing obvious), but feelings of helplessness and self-blame both lead to a downward spiral of depression of something nearing depression (dysthymia). My point here is similar to Jerry’s in that in a startup, we take failures more personally than in a normal job, similarly to how we view major life events, relationships, etc. Bottom-line: Major stressor +/- some genetic predisposition to depression (that we often don’t know about until it hits) can result in depression, which at a high level is defined as dealing with normal adversity in an “abnormal” way. Statistically, since > 1/3 of the population suffers from depression, it means a lot of us likely have a genetic predisposition — combining this with the major stressors in the day-to-day of startup life implies that at least 1/3 of entrepreneurs may be at increased risk for depression. It’s a very interesting # to consider. Can we pre-emptively help these folks?

    A slight aside, one quote I’ve heard, which I like is “being a startup CEO is the loneliest job in the world” – which I interpret as having no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong, because you aren’t exactly delegating a lot of major decisions.

  • Anonymous

    Hi I am trying to get data for a school project will you please take my survey? Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great post Brad. I think it is very important to touch on this issue. Being an entrepreneur certainly has it’s fair share of ups and downs. I’ve found that at least for me, exercise is the best stress reliever out there. I just don’t feel right anymore if I don’t get out and do something active like go for a run. It clears my mind and makes me feel better both mentally and physically. I know you are a big runner too and am sure you’d probably agree that exercise is something that would help with depression.

    • Exercise is hugely helpful to me. In this case, I ran a marathon two weeks ago so I haven’t been running much as I’ve been letting my legs recover. I’m sure that has an impact on how I’ve been feeling.

  • DJ

    Surprised more people haven’t mentioned medication and talk therapy. Exercise can help, but I personally went through a profound depression at a time when I was eating really well and in the best shape of my life.

    In my case, medication made a huge difference in relieving the immediate symptoms, and therapy has really helped me think a lot more clearly about where anxiety comes from and how to manage it.

    Also, I found out I had adrenal fatigue, which feels like what I imagine chronic fatigue syndrome must feel like, and which my doctor said is very common among entrepreneurs. For the last year I’ve been taking over-the-counter supplements to deal with the adrenal fatigue and they have made a huge difference in my day to day energy levels. Also, I’ve been doing a form of Paelo diet that I think helps — fewer blood sugar spikes and troughs.

    • The taboos around medication and therapy are probably as significant as the taboo around entrepreneurs talking about / admitting depression. I should write a longer post about therapy – just added to the “write when I feel about it list.”

  • rgraves

    One thing that leaves me feeling depressed is eating wheat. It turns out that the wheat gluten messes with my mind and changes my positive outlook to negative. I know this is a rare condition but I wanted to post it in case someone is looking for a possible effect that diet plays on attitude. I love pizza but it leaves me in a mental funk for 2 hours per slice! It took me many years to figure this out because the negativity builds slowly and I didn’t even consider that they were related.

    It takes a lot of mental energy to be a successful entrepreneur. If there is anything diet related that crashes my mental energy, I want to eliminate it. Hopefully this post will help someone. Thanks.

    • wow, never considered that. knew gluten causes stomach problems for some people, but never thought of mental issues. have you tried the do-it-yourself pizza dough mixes made with rice flour?

      • rgraves

        Rice makes me feel great. I’m sure rice flour for the pizza dough would work. I didn’t know they made it. I love pizza and it doesn’t upset my stomach or anything like that, it’s just my mental state that’s affected. Yes it’s rare, but I can’t solve a diet-related depression without knowing the source of the problem.

        Yea, I would go to these developer MeetUp meetings, have a couple of slices of pizza, and then have real trouble interacting with others. Some people would be thinking “why is HE here” and I’d be thinking “WTF just happened?”.

        • that’s pretty rude. some developers (most I might say) are not guy smiley back slapping friendly extrovert types, so it’s odd they would treat you like that if you were having trouble interacting. where were you, in hollywood?

          • rgraves

            Santa Monica. I assumed that’s what they were thinking because of the way the conversation went and the expression on their faces. I might have been wrong about what they were thinking but I don’t think so.

            My point was really about how wheat gluten takes me from a positive mental state to a negative one. It affects my communication and outlook on life. I call it a “wheatatude” which is a bad attitude caused by wheat. It’s a temporary depression that only lasts as long as the wheat I’ve eaten. This matches the topic of depression and entrepreneurs. Thanks Brad for writing this post.

            I wanted to share this in case someone else might benefit from this insight. It took me so long to figure this connection out! If it’s happening to someone else, maybe this post will help. Thanks.

  • I have a book named “Secrets of Self-Employment” by Sarah & Paul Edwards. There is a special section inside that deals with the roller coaster of emotions experienced by business owners, and for each emotion there is an explanation of what it means and several suggestions on how to deal with it. The book was written in 1991 but is still applies to our very changed world today. I highly recommend it as it helped me get through some dips.

  • DobbsShow

    There isn’t a normal explanation to this topic. Brad you’ve explored the darkside of perfectionism, and after I read this post, I couldn’t help but to relate through remembering my own similar experiences. Then a few minutes ago I read Tom Greenspon quoted saying, “If you worrying more about how you are doing than what you are doing, you’ll stumble.” ( ) This WSJ article relates these experiences into studies, helping us compare Entrepreneurism to Perfectionism, digging down at the core of our culture, our principles, and our team. I think I’ll blog about it, and return when it is done.

  • Universal_Mind

    I’;ve seen so many bad ideas, I can see why depression sets in. Do experiments first.Listen to Jack Dorsey.

  • Laudable to blog about this, Brad – whenever I am in a blip I think of the chats I had with [email protected]:disqus, and often refer to our email dialogues – it was so helpful – and indeed, yes, cathartic. I analyse such ‘black dog day*’ feelings much better now and can somewhat better detach/compartmentalise any personal frustrations from business ones. I now know they are frequently borne from ‘what if’ scenarios and the attendant frustrations that things didn’t map out as one had hoped – nay, planned. Such is life. It gets screwed up. We all have a plan – until we get punched in the face (I think Mike Tyson said that?).

    Anyway, I now try and at least learn from each and any setback (there’s plenty, lol!) and be a tad more philosophical about it all. And calmer (easier said than done!). After all, it’s only business and (eg) one’s pride/ambition that is being dented – that’s not to make light of it, for as Maslow depicts, many of us need the visceral buzz of business success regardless of how lucky we may be in having a loving partner, health, etc.


  • I struggle with depression daily and have for 22 years. @jerrycolonna:disqus literally saved me one time, before he started his practice (and several times after). I knew he had struggled with it and had posted on his blog about it in the early 2000’s, which created additional issues for him, but it let me know there was someone I could talk with who got it.

    So I showed up in his office (you were at Mouse?), and opened up. I had reached the land of Catatonia and had nowhere to go. But that conversation started me on a path toward accepting myself and reframing how I view things and my place in the world. Eventually he became my coach, and that guidance really help. What stayed with me was when he said “you’re already good, Charlie”. I didn’t believe it, so he repeated it. And it took me a long time to start to believe that and use that as a core belief that supported how I felt.

    I see a lot of other long comments–there’s so much more to share, but I’ll ump to this: I’ve developed a few simple practices that have gotten me through tough days. Which can be every day sometimes. I force myself to smile, just smile big a few times a day. I ask myself “what do I get to do today”, not what do I “have to do” today. I remind myself after talking myself out of thinking decently about myself that I’m already good.

    This weight always reminds me of when we learn how to ride a bike. If we look at the tree, we run right into it. If we look to where we want to go, we get past the tree. I try to imagine just looking at the beautiful blue sky instead of looking at the tree, and when I forget it becomes a mess (that leads into another inadequate metaphor).

    I have a long way to go. Daily hikes help. Embracing kindness toward others helps, though I don’t always remember that. Embracing kindness toward myself is hard. My dog Bear helps.

    You’re already good, Brad. You help so many people, and inspire us. You’ve helped me greatly, through this blog and through our occasional emails. Your encouragement and insights have moved the world toward a better place. And your recent book has healing power for millions if enough of us read it, spread it, and get our communities to embrace the power of startup ecosystems.

    After all these years (I think we spoke a few times in 2005 or so about investment) we still haven’t met, but I feel I owe you a debt of gratitude, so here’s a payment toward that–thank you for all you do.

    Now get some rest, take a deep breath, and keep on keepin’ on.

    • Very eloquent and heartfelt, Charlie. Well said.

      I try and no longer refer to/see such feelings as part of a ‘black dog day’ (see below) but rather now try and see such times as a ’tilting at windmills’ transient phase – the absurdity of it all helps one to laugh it off. Sometimes ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • my dog Bear is back anda delight, so I use a different metaphor, but yeah. thanks.

    • Nice comment, Charlie. No wonder you are so deep. Wrestling with demons tends to have that effect. Win, my friend.

    • A friend told me about your post – because he has read my book and heard me speak. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am the founder / author of โ€œI Get To!โ€ยฎ (The Power of Perspective). I would be delighted to send you the e-book as my gift to you. Based on what you shared so transparently – I know you’ll enjoy it! I love and appreciate that you shared your heart so openly – THAT will help others, whether you’ll know it or not. Just email me @([email protected]) Abundant Blessings!

  • Brad – Cool that you address this. It is as @msuster said a heck of a rollercoaster.
    I was right down earlier this week – then we got semi-finalled for LeWeb Paris.

    Right now having been working pretty much all night – happy and exhausted – So I just took a few minutes to read. You cheer me up – TY.

    • Congrats on the LeWeb Paris semis! Glad I made you smile.

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  • Thank you for opening this door, Brad and creating this space for people to open up. Thanks for making this okay. As you know, a lot of people look up to you.

    It seems that people who do work that requires rawness are more susceptible to depression. Probably not so much cause and effect as mutually existing. I think a lot of people are depressed but their emotions are padded. Nothing removes the padding like living on the edge — entrepreneurs, artists, prophets all live on the edge.

  • Jeremy Davis

    Brad, I read this and felt like you were talking to me directly. My company just closed its doors yesterday, and I just wrote a post about how I’m coping despite this setback. Thank you for being so spot-on–as always!

  • As a young aspiring entrepreneur, It’s nice to read articles written by super successful entrepreneurs such as yourself on more challenging personal topics. I’m prone to depression and anxiety, and have found it has become heightened in my journey from student to “real person,” especially when I think about whether to pursue certain ideas or not. Thanks for sharing.

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